Recent research by Co-op Health – the new pharmacy and wellbeing business operated by the Co-op Group – shows that a third of Brits (33%) never get rid of left-over medication while a further third (33%) use medication past its expiry date.
The survey was conducted among 2,000 UK adults with ICM on behalf of Co-op Health in June 2019. Of those respondents who had used old medication, almost half said (48%) they had not realised the medication was out of date, a quarter (25%) presumed it would still be safe to take and a tenth (13%) had not needed it at the time they bought it.
The research revealed that painkillers (27%), cold and flu remedies (26%) and antiseptic (26%) were among those most likely to be kept past their expiry date.
Around 70% of respondents said that wasting medication made them feel as though they were draining NHS money while 27% said they felt as though it could have been given to someone else.
However, almost a quarter of those taking part in the survey had failed to complete a course of prescribed medication. For two fifths (38%) this was down to feeling better before finishing them, a further fifth (20%) simply forgot and one in 10 were worried about the impact of taking too much.
A fifth (22%) of those who did not finish their medication felt the consequences, admitting they did not get better and had to get another prescription as a result.
Rachael Clarke, pharmacy superintendent at Co-op Health, said: “It’s so important to take care when using medication, if you are unsure about something always seek advice from a professional and don’t chance it. Not completing courses of prescribed medication can be detrimental not only to our own health, but also to the effectiveness of medication for others.
“Incomplete courses of antibiotics have become a huge issue and repercussions are undeniable. It’s incredibly common to start to feel better before the end of a prescription but that never means you should stop taking it.”
Over one in seven (14%) of those surveyed have taken prescription medication that was not prescribed for them. More than half (54%) said they did so because a family member or friend had given it to them, a third (32%) had taken them before so felt it would work and almost a fifth (18%) simply did not have time to go to their GP to pick up a prescription for themselves.
Dr Ranj Singh, doctor and TV presenter, said: “It comes as no surprise to me that we are a nation of hoarders, but we need to be much more aware when it comes to what we’re keeping in our medicine cabinets.
“Using expired medication, old prescriptions or even sharing medication could have serious health implications and is something that is so easily avoided. Simply learning how to correctly dispose of medication, or using something like an app to keep on top of repeat prescription orders can all help to tackle the issue.”
To help people efficiently manage prescriptions, Co-op Health has introduced a new app which enables people to manage their own repeat prescriptions without having to go into, or phone, a surgery. Instead, they can choose what medication they need to order and choose to have it delivered to their home, work or to their local pharmacy.
Providing a list of top five tips for tackling medical waste, Ms Clarke advised people to always check the expiry date on medication before taking it. She suggested not sharing prescribed medication, always finishing a course of prescribed medication, ordering via an app to reduce the chance of ending up with prescriptions they may not need, and disposing of medication by always returning it to a pharmacist.